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Feeling at Home

Jan 12, 2018, 09:14 AM by Donna Sollenberger

Donna Sollenberger - headshotWhen one thinks of home, it often evokes feelings of ease, calm and comfort. While this, unfortunately, is not the case for everyone, most people associate home with these good feelings. Where home is a haven, feelings of acceptance and belonging abound. These feelings can extend into public environments, such as the workplace, hospitals, clinics, schools, and the like.

When I was 11 years old, my father was employed as a manager for a large grocery store chain in Central Illinois. That year, his job changed, and he had to move from town to town in Illinois to help open and stabilize a variety of stores as part of an expansion strategy. It was a very exciting opportunity for him, and my mom was so supportive of my dad that she eagerly moved her family twice in one year so Dad could take advantage of this opportunity.

I, on the other hand, was much less enthusiastic about Dad’s new career. I had lived in Springfield, Illinois, since I was three, so all of my memories were of living there. I had many friends in school, and I was doing well. The last thing I wanted to do was move. Even when my parents bought me a 45 RPM recording of my favorite song at the time, “Charlie Brown” by the Coasters, on their relocation trip to Bloomington, Illinois, it did not make me like the idea of a move.

Our family moved to a rental home about twelve blocks from the elementary school my brother and I were to attend. The area was a fast-growing subdivision in Bloomington, so the schools were having a hard time keeping up with the growth. This was before the advent of temporary buildings for classrooms and limits on student class size. When I arrived, I was the 41st student in one of three 4th grade classes.

On the first day of school, my mother took my brother and me to register for class. Then, a very nice woman in the main office took me to my classroom. As we entered the door, everyone turned to look at me. I will never forget the reaction. The lady from the office introduced me as a new student to the class and to my new teacher. At the thought of another student being added to the class, everyone groaned. Someone even said, “We don’t need any more kids in this class.” I was devastated. The only available seat for me was a desk that was positioned next to the teacher’s desk – the one that was used for students who were misbehaving. Fortunately, the teacher moved the desk, but not before I felt humiliated.

That experience, for obvious reasons, has stayed with me my entire life. It is the reason I always think about how to welcome new people and make them feel comfortable at UTMB. Whether they are patients, visitors, employees or physicians, I always want to make sure that they are warmly welcomed and feel valued. I enjoy talking to employees who have recently arrived to see what they like about working at UTMB. I also enjoy talking to employees who have been here a while for the same reason and to also learn about what they would like to see improved. By giving a warm reception to people, we begin to develop relationships that will make patients want to seek out UTMB for their care, as well as employees who want to work here long term.

At UTMB, we welcome new employees every day – about 45 new employees each week and several thousand patients and visitors. It is important to think about what we can do to help them feel at home. I recall once conversing with one of our nurses, as I want to know why employees choose to work at UTMB. Her story is one that will stay with me always.

This nurse had been working at a hospital in the Clear Lake area, but she was also doing some per diem work at UTMB. She told me that one of the first days she worked on the inpatient unit at UTMB she was assigned three newly admitted patients. She was very busy, as was everyone else on the unit. While she was in a patient’s room, three nurses on the unit stopped by to welcome her and see if she needed any help. She told me that she was a little offended at first, thinking that they might have believed she wasn’t able to handle her job. However, she quickly learned that this unit truly functioned as a team, so they routinely asked each other if they needed help. In fact, this supportive environment is what caused her to apply for and get a permanent full-time position at UTMB. What a wonderful story!

I find this story even more impressive when contrasted with the fact that, in general, only one in four employees says they had someone to help them make new friends when they started their last job, according to the book “Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without.” Just think how easy it is to be welcoming to new employees and help them feel part of something special!

From patients, I hear about how so many of you have welcomed them to UTMB and made them feel at home during their inpatient admission or clinic visit. The patients and their families often remark that they felt supported and well-cared for. Of course, there are occasionally exceptions, but by and large, patients and visitors feel “something special” when they come to any of our care sites at UTMB.

As we head into the New Year, I know that many of us are making resolutions. I would like all of us to resolve to continue our welcoming ways and offering to be of assistance to others, whether it is to a patient, visitor, employee or physician. We have many challenges ahead of us in health care, and in terms of external pressures, we often times don’t feel we have much control over what is happening around us. However, how we welcome and treat people is something that we can control:

  • Let’s help our patients feel calm, comfortable and reassured in our presence.
  • Let’s help visitors who may feel overwhelmed by the size of our campus and facilities find their way to and from their destination(s).
  • Let’s let our colleagues know we are excited to help them achieve their goals.
  • Let’s interact with others so that our employees and patients feel a sense of belonging and acceptance at UTMB.

I came across a quote that I thought fit perfectly with today’s post: “Your SMILE is your logo, your PERSONALITY is your business card. How you leave others feeling after having an EXPERIENCE WITH YOU becomes YOUR TRADEMARK.”  

Making sure everyone at UTMB feels welcome and supported is what UTMB does so well – our people, our core values and our actions are what distinguish us from the rest in a very competitive health care marketplace!

Employees holding a "Welcome to UTMB" sign